CM: Poundmaker’s Lodge and its Role in Combatting The Fear of ‘Stigma’ and its Social Violence
By Siobhan Dreelan and Virginia Duran
Mental Health and Wellness can have both positive and negative effects on the individual, family, community, and Nation. In today’s society, you can see people struggling with Mental Health and Wellness negatively – suicides, addictions, homelessness – however what fails to be recognized and/or addressed are the ‘stigmas’ around mental health that limit the possibilities for effective services. These existing stigmas put fear and blame on the individual, while society distances itself from those who are suffering. This is quite problematic because people don’t understand mental health and wellness, although they are quick to judge, deny, and create barriers.
Studies have proven that trauma has lasting impacts on people’s mental health, and trauma is experienced every day. For example, losing a job, breakups, losing a loved one, or injuries. Further, we know that intergenerational and historical traumas continue to impact the lives of Indigenous Peoples. The lasting impacts of trauma play out though addictions, chronic negativity, mental unwellness, hopelessness, poverty, violence, and more that continue to plague many people.
What is Poundmaker’s Lodge?
Poundmaker’s Lodge is a residential treatment service provider that offers two treatment programs, a 42-day program and is open to anyone over the age of 18 and a 90-day program that is structured and guided by Alberta Health Services, which focuses on life skills and is tailored for persons ages 18-24. Poundmaker’s Lodge has a medical detox centre onsite and has some harm reduction strategies particularly in the opioid dependance program. It also offers the Iskwew women’s healing lodge, where women can stay for 3 months to a year where they learn life skills, and gain support, skills and access to counselling, school, volunteer opportunities and employment.
Programming at Poundmaker’s Lodge is a combination of Indigenous and Western modalities, a blend of perspectives that provides a unique approach that can start where people are comfortable, provide wrap around care and involves collaborative teamwork.
Poundmaker’s Lodge works with numerous Indigenous communities who might not otherwise have access to help with substance use. These folks come from all over Treaty 6, including Saskatchewan as Treaty 6 crosses provincial borders. Folks also come from Treaties 7 and 8. Poundmaker’s Lodge offers culturally competent programming including bringing in Indigenous Elders from various different tribes and communities, recognizing that the Indigenous umbrella is broad and encompasses many different groups of people with unique perspectives, experiences and ways of knowing.
The idea of representation is incredibly important at Poundmaker’s Lodge, where a person can feel at home around others like themselves. Having people who walk with, and role models recovering from addictions and who talk about mental health is integral to the work of connecting with folks at Poundmaker’s Lodge as a community. As well those at Poundmaker’s Lodge advocate for reducing stigma associated with Indigenous Peoples.
Where there is trauma, healing is the answer. Those who work at Poundmaker’s Lodge find it very difficult for the clients they serve and support to access assessments (psychiatrist), get identification, receive Alberta healthcare, obtain safe and affordable housing, access affordable therapy and medications, peer support, community, follow-up and transition support, and services for those who are hearing and visually impaired.
When clients come for intake, Poundmaker’s Lodge admissions team has been noticing that many of the clients are struggling with mental health, and clients have disclosed that it is difficult to get a bed at the Alberta Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for their mental health needs. It can take months for someone to see a psychiatrist, and for clients that have co-occurring disorders it is very challenging for them to address addictions when their mental health isn’t stabilized. Mental health should come first and then addiction treatment.
Funding continues to be a challenge. In part this is because Poundmaker’s Lodge is not recognized by funders as a cultural program. This creates barriers for folks on the Saskatchewan side of Treaty 6 gaining funding to access Poundmaker’s Lodge, because while Treaty 6 extends into Saskatchewan, the funding does not. Another example is the challenge of accessing places where Indigenous medicines can be picked when funders do not have the cultural understanding and competency to understand this is an important part of the healing process.
When folks leave treatment at Poundmaker’s Lodge or other community supports, there are not enough resources like housing. Often times the individual is blamed as if they are lacking or should be responsible for the entirety of their situation. The reality is it is societal pressures and factors that contribute to the continued struggles. Poundmaker’s Lodge has recovery coaches who help get people started once they leave the treatment centre and provide the bridge of support for people on their path of recovery as they reintegrate into society.
Indigenous Ways of Knowing
There are four parts to every person, the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Mental wellness and how it intersects with substance use can be seen in all four dimensions, and so healing must happen holistically in all four dimensions. All the quadrants are worked on during programming where clients learn to understand that there are root causes to addiction, including the numbing of trauma.
In addition to recognizing and incorporating the 4 quadrants, on the spiritual level the 7 directions are incorporated. Each has a value system, medicine and connectivity with things outside the self. The goal is to work towards the centre, which is the love component – where healing can happen. This further develops into a focus on the self and how actions such as a choice of kindness are the responsibility of the individual and relate to how they can connect to recognize their place and role in the community.
Through the Indigenous Ways of Knowing people learn to cope and co-exist with their mental health challenges, because these can continue well after substance use has been addressed.
Note: This is an excerpt from our December 2022 Community Matters, you can read the full publication here
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